Issue 2.1 Homepage

Article Contents
·Introduction: Kosovo/Kosova, 2000
·Theoretical Trauma
·1. Traumatic Event Vs. Traumatic Effect
·2. Trauma Avoidance Vs. Trauma Transformation
·3. Trauma Intervention as Dialogue
·Theatrical Trauma
·The Archives of Memory
·Kosovo Theater Project
·Concluding Thoughts
·Works Cited

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Steven Reisner, "Private Trauma/Public Drama: Theater as a Response to International Political Trauma" (page 9 of 9)

Concluding Thoughts

I came to understand in Pristina that when the soul is traumatized it must be attended to with a sense of humanity; otherwise the inhumanity that underlies the trauma will take hold there and be repeated. This appeared to me to be the ultimate conflict I saw in Kosovo, the question of what will fill the place left by the tear in the soul of the people: will it be a nationalistic desire for revenge, or will it be a compassion for fellow human beings, in all our complexity and suffering.

February 25, 2000. Plane from Zurich to New York. Nearly home.

After the "older" group finished its performance, I couldn't stop my tears. The image of the bride turned widow, the tender caring for the dead bridegroom. I wasn't the only one crying. And after the applause died down, one of the older Albanian men in the room began almost shouting, "If there was a psychologist in this room I would ask him a question." A few people knew I was a psychologist and said, "Steven! Ask Steven!"

He looked at me, his eyes red, his voiced choked. He spoke, and the translator translated: "I have seen now more than I ever thought I would see in my life. I went back to my village after the fighting stopped. The villagers dug up a mass grave and lined up 30 corpses. My neighbors. My friends. My cousin. I didn't cry. I saw many terrible things, and I did not cry. But today I am crying. Why? Why? Before now I couldn't cry. But today I am crying. Why - Why???" I was shaken up, and gave an answer that I can only hope was improved by the translator. I hope what the translator conveyed was something like, "Before, there were no tears because, before, tears were not enough to express what you were feeling. Before, there were no tears because, before, there was no use to which the tears could be put, and there was no place where the tears could be put to use, and there were no tools to put the tears to use. Here, together, we created the use, the place, and the tools, to use tears and art and laughter to make something of greater significance than grief alone.

The dangerous result of traumatic circumstances is not that trauma will result, but that the attempts to avoid trauma will be destructive - both to those who have been traumatized and to others when the traumatic reaction is discharged destructively.

The danger after traumatic circumstances is that there will not be trauma where trauma belongs, and the destructiveness inflicted in the traumatic circumstance will be perpetuated in the traumatic reaction. The theater work is one attempt to tolerate and creatively transform trauma in a public and artistic sphere, with the hope of securing an artistic and, perhaps, moral gain from the traumatic experience in the name of humanity and compassion. And, perhaps, there will be a side effect of healing as well.


1. "Kosovo" is the Serbian spelling for the country. It is also the name preferred by the international community, because the aim of the Americans and Europeans has been the ultimate reunification of the country, in some manner, with Serbia and Montenegro (which until recently had been called "the former Yugoslavia"). The Albanian spelling is "Kosova," reflective of Albanian nationalism and the desire for a country independent of Serbia. In speaking the name of this country, then, there is no neutral position; one aligns oneself immediately with a political vision of the future and a story of the past. I find myself using Kosovo at certain moments and Kosova at others; the usage can be taken to reflect my emotional allegiance (or my antagonism) at a given moment. [Return to text]

2. In this way, Western interventionists can be like Western tourists, in that the tourist entertains the fantasy that he or she can temporarily become a part of the foreign, idealized authentic culture and are not, simply by their presence, radically altering that culture; similarly the interventionists aspire to restore the authentic (idealized) culture, with little regard for the radical transformation their presence engenders (for example in offering salaries for locals employees that are of an order of magnitude above the salaries of traditional authority figures, in challenging traditional gender hierarchies and undermining family and community power structures, in imposing alternatives to traditional justice systems, in enforcing their own cultural ideals using economic power. This list could go on and on. [Return to text]

3. One Kosovar participant in our project described this process as a "parallel system," a reference to the covert Kosovar system for maintaining Albanian culture during the Serbian occupation. In contemporary circumstances, this referred to a surreptitious, culturally sanctioned mode of dealing with international aid organizations, almost as if they constituted another occupying power. [Return to text]

4. In fact, the theme of the IOM Kosovar theater project was "The Body in Exile." The expectation was that the body would bear the scars and deformations of exile, even after the refugees returned to their towns and villages. Even in the IOM Project, there was a fantasy of a return to a former idealized state, in that it was thought that the theater work would restore to the body the freedom and innocence that was enjoyed before the trauma. This, too, was a fantasy - in fact, the bodies of the counselors were actually engaged by the theatrical response to the trauma in ways that they had never been engaged before. The result was not a restoration, but a new and enriched bodily experience, derived from pain, pleasure and the creative, energetic interactions the theater work provided. [Return to text]

5. Unfortunately, much collected trauma testimony follows a tight, predetermined interview structure. Wittingly or unwittingly, the form limits the meanings that may be discovered in the act of remembering and in the dialogue that elicits the memory. [Return to text]

Works Cited

Bergmann, Martin S., and M.E. Jucovy, eds. Generations of the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Losi, Natale. "Beyond the Archives of Memory." In Natale Losi, Luisa Passerini, and Sylvia Salvatici, eds., Archives of Memory: Supporting Traumatized Communities Through Narration and Remembrance, Psychosocial Notebook, Vol. 2, Geneva: IOM, 2001.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Unfashionable Observations. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet, 1950.

Reisner, Steven. "Trauma: The Seductive Hypothesis." Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 51 (2003): 381-414.

S&F Online - Issue 2.1, Public Sentiments - Ann Cvetkovich and Ann Pellegrini, Guest Editors - ©2003.